Nativism, Fedoras, and the ‘Hipster’ Takeover of Montauk


A few weeks back, New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg wrote a piece on the newest victim of the constantly invading bohemian culture that sucks up dilapidation and spits out haute couture. Ugh, yes, it was another “This is where the hipsters are going this week” piece that we all love to hate but hate to love. But this time around, it wasn’t a small strip of blocks deep in Brooklyn or a new neighborhood abbreviation that brokers will strangle their listings with. No, this one was a bit more sandy.

Montauk is the final town on Long island (known as the End, for this reason) and the subject of many a Billy Joel song; where deadlocked land meets the Atlantic, and the sunset line replaces your peripheral. The quiet beach town sits just far enough off the edge of the Hampton Bays, separated only by the thin stretch of road known as the Montauk Highway. This isolated location gives the natives a sense of authenticity and, as a result, anger toward visitors. And in Rutenberg’s words, these people were suffering from a heavy dose of “hipster fatigue.”

You can kind of see where this is going.

Well, I have been going to Montauk every summer since I was an infant. My parents loved the town for all the reasons mentioned above: It had the beautiful sights of the Hamptons, minus the hustle and bustle of Hollywood chauvinism. My mother would always talk about seeing Richard Dreyfuss at the local deli and how he was just another “townie,” not some pretentious douche bag from the Strip, in town for the weekend to host another A-list shindig on his yacht.

Unfortunately, in a cynical sense, my family and I were visitors as well, reserving our trips strictly for the early days of August. And now, years later, my status as a New Yorker has given me an additional yet senselessly derogatory title to the residents of a town I’ll always love. I am a culture-destroying “hipster.”

After visiting in June, I exclaimed to my dad that something was different about Montauk this year. I started noticing features that were reminiscent of the Big City, not the Big Beach: Old, slightly unpaved roads were now dotted with yoga studios and cafes; farmers’ markets and foodie spots were popping up everywhere, and there was even a flashy new place right in the middle of town with the title “Milk” splattered across it (you can always judge the degree of gentrification by noticing a sign’s Microsoft Word font). Yes, Momofuku had come to the End. 

After a man in the town square sold me some unbelievable pickles from Brooklyn for a few bucks as well, I suddenly realized what it was: Montauk had met its revitalizing maker. In other words, the “hipsters” found out about the next biggest thing. 

Now, this isn’t the first time an alien species had threatened the way of life in Montauk. I have heard countless tales of fights between natives and the Hamptons club goers. The two simply do not see eye to eye. But when I asked a friend of mine who lives in Montauk all summer long about this ongoing rivalry, he told me that the natives do not take kindly to anyone who doesn’t live in Montauk year-round. It’s like the state of Arizona on a beach.

So when I read the piece in the Times, I felt the need to return to Montauk before the summer’s end to investigate just what the hell was going on here. Has my favorite place growing up become another hipsterdom? Was this little beach town becoming a victim of the bohemians? And if so, to what extent?

Well, after spending a few days there this week, I have a few theories to attack those questions. Let’s start with some basics of this cultural showdown. With these types of “Is this gentrification or . . .?” pieces, you have to maintain some logical train of thought to make a point. If you don’t have that, you’re simply babbling about a trend. And that gets us nowhere.

First, the icon: The hipster movement in Montauk is symbolized by the fedora. Signs scattered across the town say “Save Montauk” with a picture of a red slash going through the apparently dreaded item. When I talked to a bartender at a local bar/club that attracts the sloppy Thirsty Thursday crowds, he told me that he and his friends had a burning-fedora party on the beach to demonstrate their passionate frustration with the hipster culture. I didn’t tip him to demonstrate my passionate frustration with the Thirsty Thursday crowds.

Also, let’s talk about the fedora for a second. When hearing about this threatened accessory, my first thought was “When the hell did a fedora become associated with being hip?” No offense to fedora wearers worldwide, but the hat isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of looking “trendy.” And to characterize an entire movement with one fell yet misguided swoop of fashion? That seems a bit silly, right?Anyway, moving on . . . 

Second, the spots: A handful of bars in Montauk are designated as quote-unquote “hipster” locales. So hearing this, I was assuming the drinks were cheap; to be stereotypical, the dive bar was, in my mind, what that was referring to. Wrong. The bars that townies angrily ogle at for being “eclectic” and “urban” run at Chelsea-level prices, meaning a cover and a beer will land you somewhere in between 15 and 20 dollars. Dive bar? These guys dont even serve PBR or Genesee.

Third, the logic: the notion that Montauk is becoming a hipster alcove is fueled by the idea that businesses can promote this migration and that notion is a major flaw in recent neighborhood redevelopment. It’s a reverse view on what spawns the DIY culture in the first place. 

To use an expression, the former’s mentality is that if you build locales that “hipsters” enjoy in an “untrendy” neighborhood, hipsters will come in swarms (there have been experiments with this theory seen in Alphabet City, DUMBO, and East Williamsburg). This sort of faux bohemianism is promoted by real estate agents who thrive off of telling customers that they’ve found the “next Williamsburg” simply because one or two pop-up shops opened nearby in the past month or so.
But this shameless self-promotion doesn’t run parallel with the latter’s mentality, which is basically “We’ll just build it ourselves.” To say that “hipsters” are seeking out the remaining strains of cool is senseless: “Hipsters” are just looking for a less-costly standard of living. They don’t invade — it’s the yuppies that ride their coattails that do.
It’s like buying a plaid shirt at American Apparel. One of those puppies can go for $100 sometimes. But you’re buying into that look, not knowing that you can get the same shirt from your old uncle for free next Christmas. And what’s happening in Montauk is a perfect example of this commercialized side of the “hipster” and the annoyance that will naturally come with that (for more knowledge on the subject, check out Anti-fedora signs and bars that charge a cover? Come on, guys.
There’s no need to blame the natives. They want to preserve their way of life, and all power to them. The term “hipster” is another scapegoat in that never-ending battle of xenophobia ever so present in Montauk’s culture. Except someone will eventually have to tell them that change is inevitable, and the fight will never end. And I feel really sorry for that guy.